Posted on Leave a comment

The Scholars of Night, by John M. Ford

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Dear Mike,

Well, they’ve re-released another of your books in a lovely new edition. The cover is brilliant. I think you’d love it. The introduction to this one was easier to get through, because Charles Stross was talking about the Cold War rather than talking about you.

But then there was the book itself, and you know what you did, Mike. You know all the things you left for us to find after you were gone. The lines about grief about the loss of a mentor–knowing you would understand how that hurt just when the thing that hurts is your loss. Gee, thanks for that, friend. (I mean, seriously, thanks for that. But also, ow.)

The thing about this book is that we’re always talking about how much you were ahead of your time. But Charlie was right to talk about the Cold War in the intro, because this is the book of yours that is most of its time. This is the one that reminds me that you live in the past now, that’s what being dead means. I can’t talk to you about the gender dynamics you portrayed and what you were thinking about them, some of which is pretty strongly implied and some is a little trickier to tease out. And I definitely can’t hear what you’d think of them now, in 2021. Because this book is of its time, and that’s where you live, and I don’t live there any more, and I can’t even visit you there.

One of the things that delights me about this book is how keenly you’ve observed that one of the joys of spy novels is men’s fashion. Women’s, too, but you can find more of that in other genres. You had a note-perfect eye for what the end of the Cold War was wearing, and you juggled that in as you were doing the Christopher Marlowe and the war games and all the rest. And I smiled every time.

And then the ending. Here, this part: The children were growing up angry, without any help at all. If he could teach Paul Ogden to think through his anger–If anyone could teach that to anyone, then there was hope. Oh Mike. Oh friend. Well, we’ll just keep trying, on that front. Because I’ve got to tell you, the children have not stopped having cause for that since you wrote it. Since you left us.

It’s a book of very different battles than we’re fighting now, Mike, but the overlap is definitely there. It’s much more of a period piece than The Dragon Waiting, strange though that is to say. And yet it’s so well-constructed, it’s so well done, that I return to it again and again, for all the snapshots, all the moments, all the ways you handled tension in this book. And: this is the book that made me go read all of Anthony Price. Because it works in either order. Now it’s out again, and the people who are missing you can read it again–and the people who missed you the first time around can read it too.

I hope they do.

As always, thanks.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *